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Own a Business OR Work-Life Balance – Pick One!

Image by Felix Wolf from Pixabay

So, a buddy of mine interviewed me recently related to small business ownership and my perspective. He asked a few questions but the one that struck me the most was about work-life balance. Here is the exact question and my answer for his article:

Q: What advice do you have for business owners who want to enjoy better work life balance?

A: “I would tell them to not be a business owner. I think that work-life balance and business ownership do not co-exist well from a realistic perspective.”

(For reference click HERE for his short article)

Ok, so if I’m honest, that was a much “softened” answer to the thoughts that originally popped into my little brain. And if I’m extra honest, I don’t agree with his much more softened response. (And don’t worry, you can’t tell on me and get me in trouble – we already spoke about this)

My initial internal response was: You are out of your freakin’ mind if you think you can have any form of consistent work-life balance and own a business. That’s pretty damn funny!  (except he was serious)

Side note: My answer is entirely and 100% incorrect if your business is located anywhere in the Caribbean as they operate on something called “island time”, which is their own form of time and means basically you do whatever you want pretty much whenever you want. (click HERE for the urban dictionary definition, which is pretty accurate)

So back to the topic at hand here – business ownership and work-life balance.

I suppose that “work-life balance” is a very, very gray area and depends very heavily on how you define it. If your definition is working 40 hours per week, no weekend interruptions, peaceful vacations, and low stress, then you are completely insane if you plan to own a business and expect that. The two, in my opinion, are entirely mutually exclusive.

I will concede, that “at some point”, you may get to the magical goal of work-life balance (however you define it) and still own a business, but (and that is a BIG but), that is after many years of full-on lack of balance, busting your butt to grow your business to the point that you can afford to have “people” for doing stuff and you are driving the ship. Even that, I would say, is a stretch – but arguably attainable, so I’ll give him that one.

If I take a step back and think about the question, the answer is pretty simple.

  • Q: How to enjoy better work-life balance?
  • A: Hire more people to do the work that needs to be done

Pretty simple right?

But here’s the catch (which I doubt you missed):

  • To hire more people requires more money
  • To have more money, you need more sales and more production
  • Which requires more people
  • Which requires more money
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

If it were as easy as just hiring more people do to the work, everyone would own a business. But that requires unlimited capital – which is obviously not a thing.

So, in the absence of the money needed to hire the people to do the “stuff” – guess who does it? That’s right, the business owner. (Welcome to being an entrepreneur.) And doing all that “stuff” takes time, since we have already established that we don’t have unlimited capital. And that time is above and beyond what you are already doing.

So, if you are spending time above and beyond your normal duties, that time has to come from somewhere. You now get to pick one, or many options to steal (not borrow, as you can never give it back) that time from:

  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Family
  • Vacation
  • Friends
  • Hobbies

You are all smart people – you get it.

But let me be clear, I am not suggesting that to be a business owner you have to be single and work 120 hours per week. Not at all. What I am suggesting, however, is that business ownership requires sacrifices, especially as you are growing the business (until you can afford hire the people to do the “stuff”).

Those kinds of sacrifices tend not to equate to any sort of work-life balance.

It’s great goal, but I think that if I’m advising a business owner and he tells me he wants to grow his business and still have this magical work-life balance, I might ask him to re-evaluate his expectations.

It is my opinion that for the first X years (and yes, “X” is intentional as that number varies widely based on the type of business), being a business owner and having any sort of work-life balance (whatever that actually means) are mutually exclusive.  

That kind of question would cause me to ask two follow up questions though:

  • How do you define success?
  • What does “work-life balance” mean to you?

Deep stuff – noodle it for a bit. I’d LOVE your thoughts…

(see you on www.thecupajoe.com soon)